How to Balance Relationships and Family During the Holidays

The holiday season summons really happy childhood memories for a lot of people. But, also for a lot of people, going home for the holidays edges into the “Stressful” category. I mean, it’s still fun and you love your family and everything, but there’s a reason adults of all ages steel themselves for the family holiday get-together sprint.

That stress can double if romantic relationships are involved. Like if you’re recently single and worried about having to explain your breakup 500 times over eggnog, or not-so-recently single and have to put up with Grandma listing off the 50th nice young man she thinks you should look up. Or, if you’re coupled but your family doesn’t approve of the relationship, or you’re worried about spending your first holiday with your partner’s family rather than your own. The list is endless.

We had a Facebook Live Q&A with dating and relationship consultant Damona Hoffman on all these topics and more. Take a look below.

If you are having an audio-challenged moment, here are some highlights from Hoffman’s tips for making the holiday as stress-free as possible when it comes to your love life.

How soon is too soon to invite your significant other to spend the holidays with your family?

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Every relationship’s timeline is different, Hoffman said. Don’t feel pressured to hit milestones at certain times.

I have clients that took years to get hitched and one who recently got engaged after just eight months of dating,” she said. “Bring them when you feel ready to open up your world–the good, the bad and the ugly—to them.”

If you’re meeting the parents for the first time over the holidays, should you bring a gift? If so, what should it be?

Yes! A gift is always a nice way to make a good first impression, Hoffman said. Flowers are a fool-proof easy option. (Exception? Allergies.) But bringing something that’s important to you or symbolic of your family’s holiday traditions is even better, she said.

Bring something that is a tradition in your family that symbolizes the families coming together–an ornament, something for the table, a dish to share, a game you and your family love playing after dinner,” Hoffman said.

How do you handle uncomfortable conversations with family about being single over the holidays?

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Hoffman suggests reminding the offending family member of the projects you’ve poured your time and passion into this year. After all, you’re more than just your relationship status. She also says to kindly remind them to let you live your life on your own timeline.

“Don’t fall into the rabbit hole of telling them what you’re trying to do to meet someone because then you open yourself up to unwanted—and often unsound—advice,” she said.

What’s the best way to prepare for family holiday parties when your significant other has had conflicts with them in the past? Or when you have had conflicts with their family?

Your instinct to keep the visit short is right—decide ahead of time how long you’ll stay at the function.

“It’s easier to control emotions when you keep your visit to a shorter period of time,” Hoffman said.

Try to steer clear of alcohol during the event.

“While it might ease you and your partner’s nerves to drink through dinner, you might also say something you regret,” she said. “Better to keep the drinking to a minimum and stay present in your interaction.”

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Before the party even starts, you can have a talk with your family about your hopes and expectations for it, Hoffman said, and you can talk to your partner about their trigger points so you can advocate for them during the party.

“Establish a safe word that will indicate to you when they are reaching their ignition point so you can clear the air or seek shelter,” she said.

How do you navigate cultural differences in a new relationship over the holidays?

Lots of people enter relationships with people who come from different racial, cultural, religious or geographic backgrounds than they do. If your person is visiting your parents’ house for the holiday, prepare your parents for the differences they might notice. Remind them not to get hung up on what makes them different, and ask them if there’s anything you can do to ease the introduction for them, Hoffman said.

Make sure you and your partner understand each other’s cultures. Ask questions of one another; make sure you understand the meanings behind their customs and traditions, she said. And get on the same team in case haters present themselves. That way you’ll be able to put up a unified front.

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You can also bring a dish traditional to your partner’s culture to holiday dinner to make them feel welcome and to ease your family into the culture (and make them curious to learn more about it), Hoffman said. After all, everybody loves to eat.

Hoffman blogged on this topic for the Huffington Post—check it out if you’d like more tips on easing the introduction for your family and your partner.

How do you handle questions about a recent breakup, like if family members notice your ex isn’t with you at a function and want to talk about it?

Assure the family member that you are in a healthy place, Hoffman said. Avoid bad-mouthing your ex or getting into a lengthy story about the breakup.

“Try to steer them towards talking about your goals for 2017 rather than dwelling on the past,” she said. “Even if things ended horribly, recounting the wrongs your partner did to you will only bring you down during a time that is supposed to be filled with joy and mirth.”

How can you help your parents deal with the sadness they feel about you losing a relationship without it becoming all about them?

Be honest with your parents and let them know where you are in the post-breakup healing process (and it is a process) and how exactly they can help you right now. Let them know it might take a long time for you to bounce back from the loss, depending on the relationship.

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“Losing a relationship—whether it was your choice or not, whether it was a positive relationship or not—requires a grieving process for everyone involved,” Hoffman said. “However, as the person closest to the relationship, your parents’ responsibility is to support you. If you aren’t getting what you need from your parents to heal or if you feel that their grieving process is impacting you negatively, let them know that you’re going to need some space to find your own perspective on the process.”

This means you need to take care of yourself first. You might have to limit your holiday visiting time or reduce phone calls until they are in a better place about why the relationship had to end and how you’ll move forward as a family, she said.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.